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Immigration Task Force Priorities

Chair:  Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez
Members: Senator Menendez and Representatives Joe Baca, Raúl M. Grijalva, Ed Pastor, Silvestre Reyes, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Hilda L. Solis, Nydia M. Velázquez

Latino and other immigrants are an integral part of the history and culture of the United States and continue to assist in the development and revitalization of our local communities.  They strengthen and sustain our economy by providing much-needed labor, entrepreneurship, innovative talent and hard work.

The CHC is committed to highlighting the real and vital contributions immigrants, and Latino immigrants in particular, make to our communities and our economy.  The Immigration Task Force also monitors the unprecedented changes taking place in Washington that directly impact immigration policy, immigrants, and the communities where they live and work.  Finally, the CHC Immigration Task Force will monitor, endorse, and promote immigration reform that is in the best interests of Latinos throughout the United States.

Below is the list of CHC immigration priorities:

Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR)

Our immigration system is broken and in urgent need of a comprehensive overhaul.  The United States has an estimated 12 million or more undocumented immigrants and a majority of them are Hispanic.  The horrific September 11th attacks magnified the chaos of our immigration system, and our nation's response to the tragedy has, at times, placed immigrants in the path of misguided policies that have harmed our community.  Arrests and detentions of immigrants, workplace and neighborhood raids, and civil and human rights violations have all increased as a result of the nation's efforts to secure our homeland from the threat of terrorism.

Despite these hardships, immigrants continue to contribute their cultural richness, entrepreneurship, ingenuity, taxes and core values of family and hard work to the United States.  To strengthen our nation's security, and in defense of our own communities, the CHC is committed to working with Congress and the Administration in a bipartisan way to enact comprehensive immigration reform. 

Within the context of CIR, the CHC supports the following priorities:

Immigration Enforcement

Border Security

A sovereign nation has a right and duty to control its borders, and this responsibility is more urgent in a post 9/11 America.  In the context of a comprehensive solution, we need to ensure that there are sufficient numbers of border agents who are well trained, well equipped, and have access to state-of-the-art technology.  Border crossings and enforcement structures should be developed to ensure safe and efficient cross-border traffic.

Securing our borders should not be done at the expense of human and civil rights, bi-national cooperation, input from local border communities, or the protection of the environment.  We must actively engage elected officials, law enforcement, and civic leaders along our border regions to ensure that the concerns of border communities are taken into account when border security strategies are formulated and implemented.  We should work with source countries of undocumented immigration to secure meaningful cooperation aimed at cracking down on smugglers and discouraging workers from risking their lives by crossing our dangerous border regions.

Holding employers accountable and workplace enforcement

Unscrupulous employers should not be able to exploit cheap labor at the expense of wages and working conditions of all workers.  The current employer sanctions regime fails to protect employers who want to play by the rules and workers who are filling jobs that are essential to our economy.  The federal government needs to build a workable electronic verification system that enables workers to prove, and employers to verify, who is legal and who is not.  Such a system must be coupled with aggressive enforcement and tough penalties for employers who continue to hire those in the country without authorization to work.

Finally, the CHC opposes immigration enforcement measures that will only serve to push immigrants further into the shadows, where they live in fear and are more likely to be exploited.  We are committed to improving our national security, but piecemeal immigration enforcement initiatives are counterproductive if they are not included in a broad, comprehensive package overhauling the whole immigration system.

Family reunification and backlog reduction

A variety of reforms are needed to ensure that our immigration laws do not needlessly or tragically divide husbands from wives, or children from their parents.

The current statutory ceilings for family immigrant visas are no longer adequate and have resulted in unacceptable immigration backlogs, wherein spouses and minor children are often waiting seven years or more to be with their family members.  To protect family unity, we need to reduce the time it takes for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to approve family-based petitions and to adjust the current caps on family visas.

Our immigration laws must be flexible enough to reflect the importance of family in our nation's values.  And immigration judges must have the discretion they need to intervene in individual cases where hardship or deportation of family members is not in the best interests of our children, communities or nation.

A tough, fair and workable path to legalization for the undocumented

An estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants live in the United States.  Given the size of this population, we do not have the political will or the requisite resources to round up and deport millions of people.  The only practical and humane solution is to set up a program that gives individuals a chance to come out of the shadows, register with the government, submit to security screenings, pay restitution, learn English and U.S. civics, and maintain a clean work and criminal record.  This should be done in a way that honors the irrefutable and great contributions that immigrants make to our nation’s strength and prosperity, and does not disadvantage legal immigrants already waiting in line to adjust status.

As part of any comprehensive immigration legislation, two longstanding bills related to successful high school graduates and hardworking farm workers need to be championed. 

The DREAM Act

The CHC recognizes that there are tens of thousands of young students, who, despite their successes both in and outside of school, face a future of uncertainty due to their limited access to affordable tuition, restrictions on financial aid, and their undocumented immigration status.  Given that so many of these students were brought to the United States at a young age by their parents, the CHC is committed to supporting these dedicated students to reach their educational goals.  The DREAM Act should be a part of comprehensive immigration reform.

AgJOBS

In addition, a carefully negotiated agreement between agricultural employers and farm worker advocates, called AgJOBS, would enable hardworking field hands to eventually earn permanent residence by meeting strict work requirements over many years.  The CHC supports AgJOBS as an essential part of CIR.

New worker program for the future flow of low-skilled workers

Due to labor shortages in certain industries and high-level migration negotiations with governments such as Mexico, Congress continues to debate the need for a new visa program that would allow future low-skilled workers to immigrate to the U.S. safely and legally.   Historically, guestworker programs have favored the employer and subjected the temporary worker to abuse and labor violations.  The CHC discourages "traditional" models of such programs, and, instead, supports a new worker program that will uphold fair labor practices and protect the rights of immigrant and U.S. workers.

The CHC believes that any future legal flow of workers to the United States should:
(1) avoid increasing unemployment or suppressing wages among the U.S. worker population;
(2) guarantee immigrant workers the same labor rights as their U.S. worker counterparts;
(3) be flexible and not restricted to the sponsorship of an individual employer;
(4) protect workers' access to legal permanent residence; and
(5) allow immediate family members the option to join the temporary worker in the U.S.

Congress has failed the American people on the above points for far too long.  Given this, the CHC is committed to working on the above priorities in the context of CIR.  Limited initiatives to adjust the immigration system have proven to be inadequate, and immigrants and all Americans have paid a high price for Congress' inaction.

Immigrant Integration and Citizenship

The CHC is committed to helping newcomers to our nation integrate themselves into the fabric and traditions of our society.  The task force will work to ensure that immigrants have reasonable access to English and civics classes and have culturally sensitive access to government services for which they qualify.  The key to successful integration of immigrants is their ability to naturalize and, in turn, bearing the responsibility and reaping the benefits of U.S. citizenship.

The CHC will continue its leadership in promoting citizenship workshops around the country by further engaging Congress to take a more active role in helping their constituents navigate the process to become a citizen.  We will also work to address obstacles that needlessly stand in the way of immigrants becoming citizens.  We will engage the Administration to keep immigration application fees within the financial reach of applicants, implement the naturalization test and application process so as not to discriminate against those with limited education or resources, and encourage the estimated 9 million legal permanent residents eligible for naturalization to become citizens.

Defense of Latinos and Immigrants Against Misguided Attacks

During the past few years, members of our community have been the subject of vicious and repeated attacks by conservative commentators and anti-immigrant elected officials and their political operatives. These attacks tend to be misleading, misguided and are often factually inaccurate. The CHC Immigration Task Force will continue to serve as a powerful voice, and a staunch advocate, for immigrant working families.  We will continue to play an integral role in the immigration debate by ensuring that negative information is quickly rebutted and corrected, and we will work diligently to ensure that the true picture of our nation's immigrant and Latino community is accurately portrayed to the public.